Wednesday, November 14, 2018

It'll Be the Death of Us All. Trudeau's Failed Climate Policy.

I like to think George Monbiot had Justin Trudeau in mind when he wrote:

Those to whom we look for solutions trundle on as if nothing has changed. As if the accumulating evidence has no purchase on their minds.

Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.

In the latest Tyee there's a piece entitled, "The Rise and Fall of Justin Trudeau's 'Grand Bargain' on Climate."

The article, excerpted from Donald Gutstein's book, "The Big Stall," It begins with a dinner meeting in Ottawa between Rachel Notley and her courtiers and Justin Trudeau and his own just days after the election in 2015. Notley was in the national capital to pitch the Dauphin on her climate change policy before he headed off to the Paris climate summit.

After they discussed Alberta’s miserable reputation on the international climate change front, it became clear that Trudeau would back Notley’s carbon tax and “take it national” in short order. And the national carbon tax would give Trudeau licence to approve pipelines that would expand Alberta’s oilsands production. Knowing that Trudeau had her back, Notley could proceed with her plan. The stars were aligning nationally and provincially: Trudeau and Notley could count on each other’s support during the carbon pricing and pipeline approval wars. 
It didn’t take long for events to unfold. Two weeks later, John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, gave Trudeau some advice on how to get serious about climate change. Writing in the online magazine iPolitics, Manley reminded Trudeau that the chief executives had been on record since 2007 about the need to put a price on carbon in order to erase uncertainty for corporate planners and investors. 
Manley then made two points: Trudeau had to demonstrate a commitment to “responsible” climate action and he needed to step up efforts to support the export of energy products. More pipelines please. And from the actions Manley said must be undertaken — don’t damage the competitiveness of Canadian companies, phase in carbon pricing gradually, use revenues raised primarily to cut corporate and personal income taxes — it’s clear the responsibility was to the financial well-being of Canadian companies and not to the future of the planet.
And that’s what Trudeau did over the next year, demonstrating a commitment to “responsible” climate action without damaging the corporate bottom line, an agenda also followed by Notley. On the export side of the equation, Trudeau approved two diluted bitumen pipelines plus a liquefied natural gas plant on the British Columbia coast. But he rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which by this time was clearly dead to everyone, probably including Enbridge.
Justin Trudeau went on to comfort the Oil Patch with assurances that he was not his father's boy. And, boy, he was not.
For most of the world, the oil crisis of the 1970s and the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 have little in common beyond the fact they both were all about humanity’s seemingly bottomless appetite for burning fossil fuels. 
But Canada has an additional commonality: a member of the Trudeau family was leading the country during each of these events.
Prime minister Pierre Trudeau took dramatic action, creating a national energy company and exerting aggressive public oversight of the industry, in the process enraging the big oil companies and their allies in Edmonton and Washington, D.C. 
His son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, put forward modest measures Big Oil itself had been advocating for a decade, receiving industry’s plaudits. 
One Trudeau tried to counter Big Oil’s dominance; the other did Big Oil’s bidding. Pierre Trudeau’s message was this: Canadian oil policy must be for the benefit of Canadians. Justin Trudeau’s message was this: Climate change isn’t a crisis but a market opportunity. We can deal with it by putting a price on carbon and by investing in clean growth. 
How did this happen? How did we go from giving the oil industry orders to having the oil industry dictate climate policy?

How this apple fell so far from the tree.
When Trudeau the elder created Petro-Canada and introduced the National Energy Program, Keynesianism still reigned supreme. Government intervention in the economy was legitimate. By the time of Trudeau the younger, neoliberalism had transformed economic and political thinking, decreeing that only the market can make decisions. 
Neoliberalism reduces the role of government to creating and enforcing markets, and propping them up when they fail, as in the 2008 financial meltdown. Otherwise, just get out of the way.

Canada's climate sleight of hand.
In Paris..., at the make-or-break climate change meetings, the talk had been all about two degrees Celsius and even 1.5 degrees Celsius, a vastly more ambitious target promoted by Trudeau’s Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna. It was a target Canada had no intention of meeting, as became obvious over the next year.

Canada’s goal was to cut greenhouse gas emissions — its intended nationally determined contribution — 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, reducing emission from 742 megatonnes to 517 megatonnes, admittedly a daunting task (projected as of December 2016). “Canada is back,” Trudeau was telling the assembled dignitaries. Yet while McKenna was setting praiseworthy temperature and emission-reduction targets, she was designing Canada’s escape hatch as well, as chair of the Article 6 committee that authorized emission markets.

...Article 6 of the Paris Agreement lays out rules for countries that choose to engage “on a voluntary basis in co-operative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards nationally determined contributions.” In plain English, this article authorizes countries to participate in carbon markets as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by buying credits from other countries. 
Canada may have taken the lead in this effort because it already knew it could never meet its nationally determined contribution without buying credits from other countries.
Quagmire, or feet of clay.
During 2018, Justin Trudeau faced mounting obstacles to the execution of the “grand bargain” he’d struck with the oil industry: we’ll allow pipeline expansion if you agree to a carbon tax. Trudeau was having difficulty delivering on either side of the equation. Some provinces dragged their heels on any kind of pricing scheme — with the election of Doug Ford, Ontario bailed on the entire concept. Meanwhile, federal opposition parties vowed to kill pricing if they came to power 
At the same time, new pipelines bringing diluted bitumen to the east or  west coasts, or even to the U.S., were bogged down in well-funded, highly organized opposition by environmental lobbies and First Nations, threatening oilsands expansion plans
Unable to deliver, would Trudeau continue to receive oil industry support? His unusual step in the summer of 2018 of bailing out a pipeline that hadn’t even been built was a sign of how far Trudeau’s government would go to support the market. As another federal election loomed, so did the impossibility of squaring a circle. How long could Canadians be persuaded that we could burn more fossil fuel yet not cook the planet?
Will we finally come to realize that progressivism has no home in the realm of neoliberalism? The neoliberal order brought to dominance especially during the era of Harper, Ignatieff and now Trudeau the lesser is oriented in service to the markets. The public is left with broken promises and the fallout from the petro-state. Trudeau is not an enemy of the Canadian people but he certainly is a peril to them, to us.


Karl Kolchak said...

I was a kid in the 1970s and remember the original oil crisis quite well. The big difference between then and now can be summed up in one word: neoliberalism.

The first wave of politicians dedicated to turning control of everything over to the markets--Reagan and Thatcher in particular--were still gearing up to take power. Today, there are few if any major politicians in any western country who would not do as little Justin did. Even worse, the last generation of, yes, old line nationalist politicians like Pierre have gone extinct, and the new generation represented by Trump are just as bad as the neoliberals in being slaves to market ideology.

As for the average person, I still remember how the last scene in th movie Three Daya of the Condor chillingly predicted the Iraq War when Cliff Robertson's character says to Robert Redford that when the resources start to run out people aren't going to question how, they are just going to want us to go get 'em for them,

The Mound of Sound said...

I think you've summed up our new contagion rather well, Karl.